Indus – the indian

May 7, 2017

Astronomy

The source of the name for the constellation Indus is a bit confusing. Many say it celebrates the indigenous tribes of the Americas. But there is some indication it originally referred to tribes in Madagascar. There are also indications it’s about the tribes of the East Indies, or maybe Africa. Petrus Plancius added it to his maps in 1597 based on drawings by some other Dutch guys and he wasn’t clear on which despicable oppression by European conquerors he meant to commemorate. Regardless, most starhoppers I know associate it with Native Americans.

Unfortunately it’s often drawn as a naked dude staggering around with a handful of arrows so it could just as easily represent that one guy on Sunset Blvd who talks to himself and pees into the street from the curb. I mean, if you are going to honor an ethnic group, give it some dignity.

Like many Americans I have a native heritage and you can find where I’ve blogged extensively about that. I don’t talk about it as much as I use to because people are sensitive to cultural appropriation these days. So now I just occasionally point out that my great great grandfather was a Cherokee princess, which makes me 1/16th gay.

It’s always bothered me that people generalize and genericize the American Indian tribes. After all there is such a huge diversity of worldviews there. When it comes to cosmology, the fish-eaters of the northwest are so different than the big game hunters of the plains, and the planters of the southwest, and the corn-fed civilized villages of the southeast.

Anthropologists can produce endless conjecture based entirely on where people get their groceries. This is true even today. Whether someone tells me they shop at Safeway, or at Whole Foods, or forage in vacant lots, it speaks volumes to how they frame their existence. Personally I prefer my dinner be GMO-enriched, gluten-packed, and patently processed. My tribe invented putting Coco-Puffs on ice cream.

All of this highlights the fact that I don’t have much to say about Indus. Its stars are like a handful of lost souls forced to wander a deserted wasteland, kind of like Oklahoma. There is an irregular galaxy to be found here called IC-5152 that astronomers find sort of interesting. It’s 5.8 million light years away which is quite close, if you have a rather extreme notion of what it means to be close. IC-5152 is close enough that it might be part of our local group of galaxies, which is to say it’s related to the Milky Way.

I recommend you tell people your great great grandfather is from IC-5152. Tell it to the barista at Starbucks. That and $4.45 will get you a caramel macchiato.

Carpe Noctem

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